French lawmakers seek to bring down government as pension row rages on

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
MAR 17, 2023 LISTEN

Two French opposition groups, a broad centre-left coalition and the far-right National Rally, have separately filed motions of censure against the government of Elisabeth Borne. The two texts call for the French equivalent of a no confidence vote. Should either motion succeed, the government will be overthrown.

Borne on Thursday invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide. Police used tear gas in several confrontations, and 310 people were arrested, according to the interior ministry.

French opposition lawmakers on Friday retaliated by filing two separate motions of no-confidence in the government, hoping to force the withdrawal of the deeply unpopular law which would hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.

The motion proposed by the Liot group of independent and overseas deputies describes the reform as having "neither social, political nor democratic legitimacy;" 

A confidence vote "will allow us to get out of a deep political crisis," said MP Bertrand Pancher, whose motion was supported by independents and members of the left-wing NUPES coalition.

The far-right National Rally (RN) filed a second motion, but that is expected to attract less support.

National Rally to support centrist position

The RN criticises the reform legislation as "unjust, unfair and unbalanced". It has promised to vote for "all" no-confidence motions filed.

"What counts is scuppering this unfair reform bill," RN MP Laure Lavalette said.

No further motions against the government can be proposed, since the constitution requires that such action be launched within 24 hours of the adoption of the contested legislation. 

Elisabeth Borne's government is expected to survive the vote on each of the opposition motions, thanks to backing from the opposition right-wing Republicans.

The Republicans were unprepared to help the government in a vote of the reforms, but they are unlikely to support the dissolution of parliament and the loss of their jobs.

A call for 'visible action' by militants

Protest strikes continue in several key sectors. An estimated 10,000 tonnes of uncollected rubbish disfigures streets in many French cities. Petrol refining and distribution are running at below peak production level, sparking fears of shortages.

While a nationwide strike has been called by the trade unions "to bring the country to a standstill" next Thursday, the CGT has since called for "visible action" by labour militants on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Another union grouping, the CFDT, has called on all members to organise local strategy meetings this weekend, "with a strict respect for property and persons". The CFDT has "solemnly" asked the government to withdraw its reform project.